Good Night, Vienna

Potter Lucie Rie Refused to Exhibit in 'Anti-Semitic' Austria

Woman of a Thousand Vases (and Bowls): Dame Lucie Rie’s footed bowl (above) showcases her sophisticated, refined style.
Courtesy Yale University PRess
Woman of a Thousand Vases (and Bowls): Dame Lucie Rie’s footed bowl (above) showcases her sophisticated, refined style.

By Benjamin Ivry

Published September 03, 2012, issue of September 07, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Vienna-born potter Lucie Rie, who is the subject of Emmanuel Cooper’s biography “Lucie Rie: Modernist Potter,” shows how a Jewish artist can express Yiddishkeit in creativity despite repeated assimilations. Rie, who lived from 1902 to 1995, was the daughter of Dr. Benjamin Gomperz, an ear, nose and throat specialist and a friend of Sigmund Freud. Gomperz decorated his consulting rooms in exuberant Jugendstil (art nouveau) designs.

Rie’s maternal uncle was art collector and historian Sándor Wolf, who immigrated to the Holy Land in 1938 after the Nazis seized his collections. He died in Haifa in 1946. Wolf had taken his niece on grand tours of Europe to admire art masterpieces, as well as on a 1923 trip to Palestine, where she observed the millennia-old local tradition of pottery, only one year after she had first tried the potter’s wheel as a Vienna art student. Sometime after her trip to the Holy Land, when Rie told parents she was planning to fast for Yom Kippur, Gomperz wrote to his daughter:

“I am very much for piously respecting old traditions and customs — it is an exercise of the character — but the rule of 24-hour fasting does not have to be followed under all circumstances… fast as long as you feel well; but when you get dizzy, take a little snack. You are, after all, an anemic girl and mustn’t be harmed by fasting… you serve the commandment even if you have fasted for less than 24 hours.”

Despite their prosperity and privilege, the family’s assimilation into Austrian society was incomplete. A 1987 book, “Lucie Rie” by Tony Birks, notes how Lucie’s beloved artist brother, Paul Gomperz (1898–1917) joined the army during World War I “to avoid being called a ‘Jewish coward.’” He was killed on the Italian front, and Rie’s survivor guilt was augmented by further losses during the 1918 flu pandemic, notably that of the Austrian painter Egon Schiele, whose work she much admired. In 1927, Gisela Gomperz, Rie’s mother, wrote to her daughter during a skiing holiday in Obladis, Austria, praising the Tyrolean scenery “if one does not mind the anti-Semitic tendencies there.” In a 1934 letter, her mother added, “One hears a lot about the Nazis, but one doesn’t see them; bunch of blackguards, I must say.”

Decades later, Rie would tell a journalist: “I never liked the Viennese people. They were jealous, not goodhearted, and most of them were Nazis.” After her pottery had received many solo exhibits around the world in the postwar years, Rie still refused to show her works in Austria, responding to any such proposal with, “Only when I am dead.”

After the Anschluss, from which she unsuccessfully sought distraction by reading Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone With the Wind,” Rie fled to London. There she relied upon a network of émigré Austrian Jewish friends to find clients, and sought out an appropriate pottery studio as part of a decades-long successful quest to become an English artist who nevertheless retained her original identity.

Once Rie had purchased a home in Albion Mews, Bayswater, that also served as her studio, her friend, Freud’s architect son, Ernst Freud, fashioned living and working spaces inside it. In 2009, Rie’s studio would be reconstructed in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. In Albion Mews, Rie behaved like a well-brought-up English lady, observing with religious fidelity the ritual of consuming afternoon tea and cakes. She worked in total silence, with improbably neat and pristine precision. Cooper, a frequent visitor in later years, said, “I was amazed to see that when [Rie] stepped down from the wheel, she was as clean as when she got on it.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.